U-17 World Cup provides latest youth football festival

Posted by Christopher Atkins

VALERY HACHE/AFP/Getty ImagesBrazil's Abner, center, has been showing he is head and shoulders above the competition at the world youth level.

The Under-17 World Cup gets underway in the United Arab Emirates on Thursday in what is the final major youth tournament of 2013. FIFA's latest showcase was delayed until October to allow for for cooler conditions in the Emirates (a decision that makes a lot of sense, no?), but anticipation is high for the competition ahead among keen observers of youth football.

In the UAE, though, the hosting of the tournament is not proving quite so successful, with tickets being given away following ailing sales.

With 24 sides from across the globe gathering to compete for the overall prize, it is a surprise to see only three previous winners on show. Brazil and Nigeria each have three titles, while defending champions Mexico are twice winners. The likes of Italy, Croatia, Argentina and Japan will hope to set their own record straight in the coming weeks.

The Under-17 competition lacks the star appeal of the U-20 competition, with many of the players yet to make their first moves in senior football. However, the competition has birthed some of football's bigger names, with Cesc Fabregas, Anderson, Carlos Vela, Toni Kroos and Landon Donovan all former Golden Balls (MVP) or Golden Boots (top scorer) at the tournament. While most players on show will not go on to become senior international stars, the hope will be that some on show will learn from the experience and make a significant impact later in their career.

Who, then, are the possible stars of this year's tournament?

Abner, Brazil

It's unusual to pick out a left-back as the potential star of a tournament, but Coritiba youngster Abner, 17, could be a truly special player in the years ahead.

Upon his 16th birthday, Coxa moved quickly to tie him down to a new contract amid heavy interest -- and with good reason, with Manchester City heavily linked with a move the youngster this summer—they are far from alone.

Already a member of Brazil's U-20 setup, having featured at the Toulon tournament earlier in the summer, Abner has since gone on to make his first-team debut. A good defender positionally, going against many stereotypes, he is also typically powerful, heading forward and a major contributor to the side in attacking areas. Watch also for Kenedy and Gabriel Barbosa, two highly impressive attacking midfield talents.

Alen Halilovic, Croatia

Undoubtedly the most famous name in the tournament, Halilovic is already an important figure at Dinamo Zagreb and a senior Croatia international. Indeed, but for fine details, Halilovic would have joined Tottenham for over 15 million pounds this summer.

Often compared to Luka Modric, the diminutive Croat is a wonderfully technical attacking midfielder with excellent close control and a fine long shot. Heavily left-footed, he will likely take on a central playmaking role for his side at the tournament.

Halilovic is yet to truly excel at the first-team level, but just being able to contribute given his age and slender build is a major achievement. His experiences should serve him well against players of his age and it would be a surprise were he not to excel over the coming days and weeks.

Jose Almanza, Mexico

The Player of the Tournament in CONCACAF qualifying, the 17-year-old Pachuca midfielder kept play ticking over from the centre of the park throughout and established himself as one of the country's biggest talents.

Almanza has played a number of roles in defence and midfield for his club at Under-17 level, but should take up his position at the base of the midfield trio once more in this tournament. He can also play in a wide position or at full-back if required.

Mexico are defending champions after their success on home soil in 2011, where they knocked out France, Germany and Uruguay in successive rounds. With several exciting players in the squad once more, including forward Marco Antonio Granados, they will be one to watch this time around.

Isaac Success, Nigeria

Given Nigeria's outstanding record at the U-17 World Cup, the Super Eaglets will be hoping for another title in 2013 and leading the way will be Success, a centre-forward.

The top scorer in African qualifying, with seven goals -- including four against fierce rivals Ghana -- Isaac has since agreed a 1.4-million-euro deal to join Italian giants and perennial scouts of youth talent Udinese. He is expected to be loaned to Granada when he eventually arrives in Europe and is already much-hyped in his homeland.

His upper-body strength and power allow him to shield the ball and brush off many defenders at youth level, while he is also a very pure striker of the ball. Watch for Isaac to get a long-range free-kick opportunity at the tournament, with his set-piece taking a big component of his game.

For further discussion on any of the players featured in The Scout's Notebook, Christopher can be found on Twitter @chris_elastico. More of his work profiling rising talents can also be found at TheElastico.com.

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